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Nike SB Hype: As Told By Skaters

Eddie Paz

For younger skaters, Nike SB was a jumping-off point. For the generations before, it had to earn their loyalty by taking skating to a new place. Soon enough both skaters and sneakerheads embraced the high-level of storytelling and great design coming out of Nike SB since its 2001 foundation. OGs fondly remember the early days of the Nike sub-label, its false starts, and the seemingly non-stop creativity that has come from their camp since 2001. Younger ‘heads have been gifted (and cursed) with unprecedented access to information via high-speed internet and social media meaning it’s never been easier to deep dive into a brand’s archive that can potentially become their new favorite thing. Having an audience of people genuinely into the storytelling, design, and cultural importance of a brand like Nike SB can only be a positive. It’s really the culture vultures you need to look out for.

Since its founding in ‘01, Nike SB has experienced mass appeal and underground comforts time and time again. In 2021, the resurgence of mainstream love for Nike SB, in particular their Dunks, is inescapable. Whether you’re a skater or a sneakerhead, it’s undeniable that Nike SB Dunks are hotter today than they’ve ever been; holding a tighter grip on the industry than it ever has before.

Yet, what’s often lost in the fog of blockbuster collabs, bots, and resellers is the heart, soul, and voice of Nike SB’s original customers. What do skaters think about the hype?

Hype can be healthy:

For most, the brand’s popularity is accepted. It’s even encouraged. Real skaters are not trying to gatekeep anything from anyone with a genuine interest in the sport or its history. It’s the conspicuous consumers buying and reselling with no regard for the history that is the problem. They’re the reason most skate shops today tend to hold local raffles for high profile releases. Some stores allocate stock for their regulars and VIP customers as a gesture of appreciation for supporting their brick and mortar shop, often setting aside separate stock for public raffles. Occasionally you’ll find shops that ask to send in a clip of you doing an ollie or some other trick to “earn” your pair. 

While it may seem standoffish or even like gatekeeping at first, it must be understood that it really does come from genuine love and desire to protect the subculture the shop owners hold dear. Rather than blatantly sell off the single size run (if they’re lucky) allotted by their Nike SB accounts to bots and/or resellers, independent shops will often put in some kind of measures to ensure the shoes get onto the feet of those who want to wear them, skater or not. If you do shred them, well, even better.  At the end of the day, getting shoes onto the feet of those who really want to wear them, without paying a reseller, is what really matters. We share this sentiment and hold this mentality in everything we do here at SoleSavy.

To get a better understanding of how far Nike SB has come today, we spoke to a few voices in the industry as well as skaters to get their opinion. One of these voices is the illustrious Hunter Muraria, a 20 year Nike veteran who worked for Nike SB from 2003 to 2016. We asked Muraria what his thoughts were on non-skaters buying SBs to which he replied: “[I] back it 1000%. Every SB Dunk sold to a non-skater is a potential skateboarder who will come back and purchase skate soft/hardgoods that support the skateboard industry”. 

When asked about how SB hype today compares to its heyday of 20 years ago, Muraria doesn’t mince words. “There is no comparison. The hype today is only about the flex”, says Muraria. He continues, “Back in 00’ it was about the flex and education of skateboarding culture that eventually became the spear of streetwear. ” There is a fine but very well-defined line separating appreciation and appropriation of something. 

The flagrant disregard for the storytelling and history that makes these inanimate objects so full of life is the only reason some sneakerheads and skaters look at the current wave of IG clout chasers with some disdain. Look, most people buying Air Jordans don’t ball like MJ, or at all. Most folks entering raffles for the latest Nike SB Dunk Lows probably can’t do a kickflip. None of this means the product isn’t meant for you. In fact, quite the opposite. If you have a genuine love for the design and/or storytelling, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be proud to flex your hard-earned W. 

The Roots:

It’s really fascinating to see how Nike Skateboarding has gone back and forth from being reviled to adored, praised in the mainstream, brought back to its niche roots, and back again, all in the course of some twenty-odd years. When Nike tried to capitalize on the trend of skaters wearing the Air Jordan 1 and Dunk High basketball shoes, things didn’t go so well.

In 1996, Nike Skate was born and released their inaugural footwear offerings: the Nike Choad, Snak, and Schimp. The shoes looked and performed about as well as their names sounded. Skaters the world over not only thought the product was lackluster, but that a huge corporation like Nike couldn’t possibly understand what makes the subculture so important to its participants. Aaron S., one of our Canadian members recalls, “I remember when skaters hated the idea of Nike coming into the skate community. There were a lot of people that didn’t want to associate themselves at first to the brand because they were seen as selling out. In the end, wear what you want and feel comfortable in. I think with the SBs, they were really the ones that started collaborating with other stores and celebrities. They allowed for people to get creative and they had stories attached to them. That’s what really got me into SBs.” People were skeptical, and rightfully so. Nike Skate shut down soon after its 1996 launch.

It was soon followed up with a short-lived but more genuine attempt to break into skateboarding with their acquisition of Portland, Oregon-based skate shop
Savier, where Muraira worked before Nike SB. Savier had signature shoes and apparel but they also had their own skate team made up of future Nike SB OGs like Stefan Janoski, Brian Anderson, Brad Staba, and Jon Rattray.

Spearheaded by a motley crew led by Sandy Brodecker, marketing by Stance Magazine’s Kevin Imamura, and team management by Robbie Jeffers, Nike SB released their first footwear collection in March of 2002. 

Four Nike SB Dunks were launched, each signature colorway created with/for their debut skate team of Gino Iannucci, Richard Mulder, Reese Forbes & Danny Supa. Soon after this, the brand would drop its first collaborative project, a 500 pair footwear collab with the ever-growing but not-yet mainstream NY skate brand Supreme. Released later that same year, the Supreme x Nike Dunk Lows were a cult classic and instant success. it’s only been uphill in terms of scope for Nike SB.

Since then, the brand has continued to grow and give back to its community. Love letters to the scene like the Ice-Cube and Paul Rodriguez commercial, “It Was A Good Day” or Rodriguez’s Nike SB funded redesign of New York’s
LES Skatepark in 2012 are just some of the examples of their dedication. Like SoleSavy member and senior artistic director of Central Station (Nike, Jordan Brand) Ryan Z. says, “Skateboarding would not be as huge as it is today if it wasn’t for a big brand like Nike [re-entering] the scene. I mean, skateboarding is in the Olympics now… 15 year old me never saw that coming”. 

Support The Homies:

Many of us, SoleSavy included, have called the recent uptick in the Dunks’ popularity a “revival”, “resurgence”, “return”, or “renaissance”, inferring in some way that between their early heydays and contemporary popularity, Nike SB disappeared. In reality, they didn’t go anywhere. 

“[The hype just] looks heavier now because of social media and sites like eBay and StockX”, says Ryen Motzek, co-founder of California-based shop and Nike SB collaborator, Atlas Skateboarding. While on the surface it looked like Dunks no longer garnered the headline-grabbing attention of yesteryear, the brand continued to thrive away from the spotlight through the 2010s. It’s important to note that just like mainline Nike, the SB line by no means relies on the sale of its ultra-limited, region exclusive, and/or collaborative projects to keep the lights on. Nike’s bread and butter will always be its sale of widely available, innovative, general-release footwear, apparel, and equipment. 

Motzek points out that to this day, non-Dunk Nike SB products continue to make a substantial amount of annual sales at Atlas’ San Mateo shop. In fact, it’s the continued support of their high-quality, readily available product that allows Nike SB the freedom to work with skaters from novice, amateur, and pro levels. You wouldn’t have your
Pigeon Dunk hysteria or community initiatives if the brand just kept releasing more Choads, Snaks, and Schimps. (Seriously, who named these?)

To an outsider, they might assume that anyone into this extreme sport with roots in punk and anti-establishment values, are unwelcoming. In reality, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Media has portrayed skaters as the “bad boys” in the neighborhood,  when in reality, the sport, much like most athletic ventures, is based on camaraderie, teamwork, acceptance, and fun. If the shoe fits, you’re welcome to join the club. 

We’re just saying that a little research can go a long way. 



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